Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Amex: Helping Customers Pays Off

October 2nd, 2012

Let’s face it, working in a call center is a difficult job. It doesn’t help when the focus at many companies is the quantity of calls and the average call length. Sure, the person is sort of friendly, but you can sense that their entire mission and motive is to get you off the call as quickly as possible.

Hold time aside, small wonder most people dread making the call to many 800 numbers. If Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines, etc.) is one of the best at turning business models on their head, there’s someone at American Express who did the same thing: Jim Bush is the executive VP in charge of world service, encompassing over 200,000 employees. Not your typical small department or business unit.

His instinct, and something he actually set out to accomplish, was to take the conventional “speed and quantity calls” wisdom and turn it into actual human interactions. He changed the massive Amex matrix to: Would you recommend this company to a friend? Bush moved all interaction with customers to now be: How to complete the transaction and build the relationship. No more robot scripts. In fact, no more scripts at all!

Incentives and measurements are now based on real productivity indicators and customer satisfaction. Their profile on customers now includes a predictive score of how likely the customer is to leave, and any early warning signs of that. All Amex call center staff is trained to uncover problems or irritants and to resolve them.

Today, customer satisfaction is way up, measured by customer spending increases of 10-15%, and huge increases in retention. In fact, their operational costs are also down because Amex has reduced the friction, errors, and repeat calls.

Us versus Them – Two Different Views

March 15th, 2011

If there is one person who excels at creating a culture of customer service, it’s Sir Richard Branson. Orange Branson is the owner of Virgin Airlines, Virgin Mobile, and a ton of other companies. Branson actually chooses to enter businesses others avoid like the plague and cannot make money in.

But then, for Branson it’s all about the customer – and it shows. When front-line staff use “they,” instead of “we,” it’s the first clue that there are significant communication problems and other issues within the company. “They” (management, or some unnamed group) changed the policy on this or that, or “they” decided something or another. However, it also originates with management who start to claim that “they,” the front-line staff, don’t adhere to this policy or just don’t do one thing or another. But two “they” don’t make a “we.”

Branson argues that it is often a blockage of information, caring, and communication, which fosters this mindset. When Virgin Atlantic designs new interior cabins, the flight attendants are involved from day one. It creates huge pride, a sense of involvement, and caring. It also becomes a whole lot cheaper than retrofits and changes later when it turns out that the layout is unworkable for passengers or crew.

Many companies also continue to make the problem worse with more and more reliance on impersonal communications, or policies and procedures, sent by e mails as a done deal. The “how-to” improve the situation is easier, and a choice. What’s much harder is getting staff to actually start to listen to each other. Maybe the next time you hear a “they,” it’s worth asking the person if they don’t work here, too?

Bronson’s attitude about customer service very much reflects that same mindset. In his companies, it is always “first to know – first to handle.” In other words, whichever staff member hears about a concern from a customer is in charge of resolving the matter. Branson believes that, in order to truly stand out when it comes to customer service, rules should be seen more as flexible guidelines. Yes, Bronson is Orange, and every Orange sees it that way. But then, results speak louder than words – and Bronson’s companies stand head and shoulders above others, in a ton of businesses, when it comes to customer service and retention.

In the words of Branson: “Any manager who believes rules are rules and policies are written in stone likely doesn’t work directly with customers. It’s also likely to be a company or department which has the “we vs. them” mindset.”

For anyone who prefers the opposite approach, meet Michael O’Leary. O’Leary is the CEO of Ryanair, the widely successful discount airline operating in Europe. You may recall that his airline first floated the idea last year of pay toilets on airplanes. While that may be a ways off, O’Leary did ban cover sheets on faxes and requires his employees to buy their own pens.

O’Leary has worked hard to become one of the most unpleasant people in Ireland, but he’s proud of it. But when it comes to customer service, his attitude is entirely different from Bronson’s. Here is his quote to Bloomberg Businessweek: “One of the great MBA-speak ideas is that the customer is always right. The customer is usually wrong. The only time you hear from a customer is when they’re usually complaining because they want to break our rules. Why can’t I get a refund for my non-refundable ticket? Bugger off!”

Then, as if to prove O’Leary’s us vs. them policy, Ryanair had a flight diverted due to fog this winter. The captain announced that they would not wait for the fog to clear, but would be bussing the passengers for six hours to their destination. However, the passengers revolted in a reverse-hostage taking, and refused to leave the airplane.

At that point, the crew blocked access to the washrooms and cut the passengers off any water or snacks in an attempt to force them from the plane. When the passengers still didn’t budge, they simple called the police and had them forced off the plane and onto the busses. How’s that for PR? In fact, the story made headlines across Europe for weeks! So, personally, I’ll go with the Branson approach….


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Getting Feedback from Each Color

September 2nd, 2010

Why don’t most employees offer feedback or ideas for improvement? There are good reasons, according to a new study from Kansas University. It is often because companies can minimize, ignore, or forget, the social ramifications involved.

Their study found that social concerns often have employees choosing not to ever speak up. Feirong Yuan, one of the authors of the study, adds that this trend is more common in companies where, by perception or reality, the firm does not value change. In those instances, even an employee who has a great idea may be reluctant to speak up, fearing that he or she will be seen as disruptive.

But there are things companies can do to become more like I.T. firms, or any start-up, where everyone’s new ideas are actively sought out, and almost mandatory. Some firms create the atmosphere through innovation, others through incorporating it into their employee evaluations. But the study also found that one of the core ways to have someone volunteer ideas, suggestions, and feedback, is to first have a manager who will actually listen well, and welcome feedback.

Blue can supply powerful insights into the teamwork, or customer service areas, because they certainly do know way more of what’s going on than other Color.

Greens are constantly thinking of new and better ways some things could me managed, implemented, or streamlined. While they are the least likely to be discouraged from providing their feedback, they stop being interested when they reason that nobody is listening or implementing any of them.

Oranges have extensive shortcuts to get things done. They’re using them, so why would others not want to implement these? Oranges are also incredibly creative, if someone just challenged them, and gave them a reason.

Of course, Golds may not like change much, but they are the best source for tweaking efficiencies, finding redundant work that can be eliminated, or other huge cost-cutting measures. They see them, they tell their friends, but won’t share it publicly more times than not.

But then, without knowing Colors, most companies wouldn’t even know how to ask, who to ask, or how to make it a safe environment for each Color to contribute their unique strengths in powerful feedback and suggestions.

(Trying) To Sell to Greens

July 1st, 2009

The following is an excerpt from The Colors of Sales & Customers booklet. It might give you a small insight into the Green buying process of your partner, coworker or clients:

Greens would rather reinvent the outdated and inefficient process of shopping. It takes time to drive somewhere, get into the store then hope they even have the product in a variety of different styles and options. Not to mention dodging annoying sales staff, and certainly never having enough time to explore their choices and option. Chatty sales staff will always get a curt answer and a definite signal of ‘leave me alone.’

After all, their buying trips are more of an investigation than a shopping trip. Sales staff are really only useful to give them information. Even then, it is taken with a grain of salt as these people are promoting their own product and really have no credibility in the eyes of a Green investigator – ah – purchaser.

After all, they’ve already researched the product on the Internet. This trip is to physically see and touch – and perhaps buy if everything they’ve learned already can be confirmed. Loose ends, questions, or something incompatible will certainly have them walk out of the store empty handed.

Once all available information has been gathered or confirmed, a sales person might actually be of some use. But one or two of the first questions can be technical, and such where they already know the answer. In their effort to establish credibility, they’re simply seeking to test that of the sales person. Part of this interrogation is to confirm his or her hypothesis, part of which is to make sure there are no flaws or limitations that may have been overlooked. After that, Green takes the time to process all available information and forms a logical conclusion. Mission accomplished – case closed.

©George Boelcke, CCP

Fine Whining

June 1st, 2009

That was the headline of a Calgary Herald story on the art, or the need, of complaining. Yes, most companies really do want to hear from you. After all, companies cannot fix what they don’t know, and they’d rather hear from you directly, than by word of mouth. It is always (or should be) their equivalent of an early warning system.

How they deal with it is another matter, but according to B.L. Ochman currently writing a book on the subject: “Companies who ignore complaints are just operating on borrowed time.” We all know someone who has shared information on poor products, stores, or bad service. Only a few actually complain, but many of us simply boycott, or avoid stores. A common rule in retail has long been that someone who is unhappy will tell between 10 and 45 people.

The vast majority of feedback will come from Greens and Golds. Greens want to help the business, and teach them to do better (or the lack of credibility will have them gone and never returning.) Golds are actually doing the company a big favor. They are creatures of habit and have likely dealt with the business for a long time. The last thing they want to do is to change retailers! So their feedback is to help the business to keep their business. Besides, a problem that is addressed and fixed will make most Golds MORE loyal!

University of Alberta Assistant Professor of marketing Doug Olsen relates the story of a very moldy package of cream cheese his wife had purchased. Within ten minutes of calling his grocery store, the manager was at his door with an apology and two fresh packages.

But that’s definitely the exception, rather than the rule. Last year, I had a seminar at a Holiday Inn, but the clerk simply insisted there was no booking. Oh sure, there were meeting rooms available, but I didn’t seem to understand: There was “nothing she could do”, as I didn’t have a booking! Letters to the manager and their head office were simply ignored. Is that the exception or their policy? We’ll never know, but you can guess the odds of getting repeat business from any Gold or Green, who make up more than 50% of the population.

What can we do? Well, it starts with an attitude and mindset that you deserve better, and the knowledge that you are actually helping the company by giving them feedback. That you care enough to share:

  • You can do it in writing. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable making a call – a written note is more effective anyway.
  • Keep your receipts and stay specific and calm. Tell them what happened, as well as what steps you’d like them to take to correct the matter. They cannot guess what you want, but you need to stay focused, specific, and in control, without losing your temper, or sounding crazy, or unreasonable.
  • Think higher and smaller. Address your concerns to someone in authority, and to a specific person, if possible. Think smaller in terms of which retailer you deal with. Smaller companies, or regional institutions, will be much more caring and willing to address your concerns.

Most companies spend all their energy on product knowledge and technical training, and no time, effort, or energy on communication, or people skills. It is sad, but true: The average company only spends two percent of training budgets on front-line staff – that’s it.

©George Boelcke, CCP

Different Customer Service

May 1st, 2009

Twice in the last month I had to take my car in for repairs. As the shop is clear across town, I was always going to be waiting. Besides, when they see me lurking around the customer lounge drinking their free coffee, the service advisors are way more motivated to get me in and out.

Service advisors get a large part of their income on commission. What? You thought they want to upsell you for no reason? Yet, I also know that almost none of them have ever taken any sales training, but that’s another issue.

During my first trip, I was helped by a Gold service advisor. His stress level was already quite high by lunch time when I arrived for my appointment. From what I could observe, he had been telling his customers how long their repairs would take, and made sure they understood the shop was running about an hour behind. But a service advisor has no actual control over the mechanics. When customers arrived to pick up their vehicle, some of them weren’t ready. You could literally tell from the tone of his voice and his demeanor that he believed this was on him, and somehow his fault. After all, he had given his word, but had to rely on others to see it through.

My return trip was with an Orange service advisor in the same shop. Needless to say, with some humor, I quizzed him a bit as to whether he was any good at his job. It did not take much for this (or any) high Orange to let me know he was VERY good, and was the highest producer three months running! It was also my small way of checking if he was Orange. Again, it was a day when the shop was obviously running behind, but this Orange was not going to lose any business. “I’ll get it in the shop right now,” was his only comment, as he proceeded to take my car and drive off.

Hmmm…way behind, yet he was getting mine in immediately? Nice try. I’ve been around the industry a little too long. So, when I walked around to the back of the service department, my car was sitting outside the entrance. No, it was not going into the shop right away. But his Orange logic was to grab my keys, take the car away, and move it out of sight. Who would really know that it wasn’t being worked on? At least he had control over a customer, and was guaranteed to keep the repair job, without me walking out, or becoming discouraged because of the delay.

©George Boelcke, CCP